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January 20, 2012

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it isn't university and it isn't education

Elucidate, please.

Sounds like LJ is referring to some sort of Juku school or test preparation class. It's not taught at a university level but at a pre-university level, and much like trying to cram for the LSAT or MCAT if you've no idea what the concepts are behind the questions you're studying in the book, not much of an education either.

Or maybe I just need to go to bed and stop reading blogs at 3am. :)

My post didn't seem to go up, so here are two quick links

If you have access to this journal
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/berghahn/apw/2011/00000002/00000001/art00006 sets out the situation.

This Japan times article details how much the knowledge base of entering students has declined.

It's hard to talk about specifics because there is a lot of background information that you need, but let me know what aspect(s) you are interested in and I'll try to give you an idea of what is happening here.

Open thread?

I just thought I would let everyone know that I have significantly reduced my blog interaction, I did this by adding this to my desktop so that any time I feel like commenting I just play it. This replaces about 80% of comment discussions.

Try it, say any conservative/Republican thing and hit play, pause after he stops, repeat.

Now if I could find a "Things Republicans Say" I could do a quick edit and never have to read a blog again.

:)

lj:

From the article (and the abstract on the one behind the paywall), it's a very curious picture.

1. It looks like Japanese elementary/HS education was maybe never all that good across the social class board. I mean, not knowing what direction the sun sets or how do to fractions, that's pretty amazingly basic stuff. But the failure was concealed by the fact that only a (small?) subset of students went on to higher ed.

2. This may be why cram schools are traditionally so important for the college-bound: because their in-school education is so poor.

3. Now the school-age population is shrinking, but the number of colleges has *increased* -- which doesn't seem like a very good idea. The only way to deal with this is to bring in many students who are below the previous cut-off line.

This paragraph confuses me:

To ensure enrollment, and thus profit, stay up despite the demographic decline, some universities have chosen to accept high school students without requiring them to take entrance exams, or give them tests that cover fewer subjects.
Are most Japanese Us for-profit? Also, this implies that there's no equivalent of the SATs/ACTs/etc, no national test, but that each U gives its own test. Is that true? I've heard of this being standard in Brazil, at least, but I assumed the Japanese love of uniformity meant they had national tests.

Dobe: That's a great idea. A time-saver for the lot of us. ;) I'm not absolutely sure but there doesn't seem to be anything racist about it either, though I'll keep an eye out.

But, in the meantime, it occurs to me that Newt Gingrich waxing appalled at the liberal press (Matt Drudge) rubbing his serial and yuckalicious personal behavior into the faces of "values" voters in South Carolina and having those same voters roar their approval at his high dudgeon is not unlike the El Capitan of the ill-fated ocean liner now lying on it's side leaking hydrocarbons, ersatz fois gras, cheap champagne, and human remains into the Mediterranean giving a speech a month from now before the some-4000 strong survivors of the criminal tragedy and expressing his apoplectic appalled-ness at the temerity of the Italian Cost Guard condemning his skippering of the vessel and not appreciating the risks he took in tripping and falling overboard directly into a lifeboat and scampering onto dry land alone in the dead of night to supervise the rescue of the passengers lives, dignity and, why not, chastity, and by the way, the cruise-ship industry is way over-regulated as it is by those elite maritime bureaucrats in Rome and Brussels .. and then having the survivors roar their approval of the Captain's actions and hoist him onto their shoulders for a rousing march to the good offices of the Coast Guard official to tar and feather and hang the latter for his impositions upon freedom-loving cruise-ship partiers everywhere.

Count,

When will you liberals learn that family values only means you have to get remarried to someone of the opposite sex. Oh, and ask forgiveness from the church of your choice.

Is that really so hard?

I might add that if you been exposed as a serial sinner you might have to resort to rehab before asking forgiveness.

You forgot that "hating family values" can get applied, even if you have a long-lasting stable marriage, complete with children that you obviously care about very much. All it takes is being of the wrong party. Or race.

Car about what I say; ignore what I do.

Good questions, doc. Let me try and answer them,

1. It looks like Japanese elementary/HS education was maybe never all that good across the social class board. I mean, not knowing what direction the sun sets or how do to fractions, that's pretty amazingly basic stuff. But the failure was concealed by the fact that only a (small?) subset of students went on to higher ed.

There is a big jump between elementary and JHS school education (which is mandatory) and hs (which is voluntary but almost everyone attends) I love Japanese elementary education, and I think it does a number of things remarkably well. It also does some things that I wish it didn't do well (the ability to inculcate a sense of Japanese nationalism is what I'm thinking about here) Junior high school, not really great, because the students slowly move to preparation for high school entrance exams, and rote memorization. High schools (which, though I worked in them for 5 years, can take or leave) are streamed according to these entrance examinations, which then used to function along a spectrum from job preparation to college prep. But, like the US, the undergraduate degree has come to replace a hs diploma as a basic entry level requirement, but the Japanese system is poorly equipped to do that.

Also, though I have never delved into those surveys, Japanese really like to read about how bad things are compared to the good old days. I remember when my daughter brought home some homework in fractions and I was at a loss and had to go off for an hour or two to remember how to do it. I suspect that there is some researcher bias which is transmitted when they ask questions in a way that may not be familiar to students so they can then go on about how little the students know. This article suggests that Japanese fraction pedagogy is much better that the US, so the problem is in the attainment rather than in substandard. It may be to do with social class, but the construct of class here is so different than in the US, I think that has to be set aside because of the complications.

2. This may be why cram schools are traditionally so important for the college-bound: because their in-school education is so poor.

To be sure, when looked at from a certain distance, cram schools acted to make a hash of international school comparison, because you look at how many hours and school days in the formal system, but are unable to account for the extra schooling that cram schools provide. One would think that cram schools would become less important in an era of demographic implosion, but they have thrived, because they have a laser-like focus on preparing students for entrance examinations, and don't teach anything else. The best juku teachers are superb entertainers who are able to have students remember entrance exam information in a way that they can't forget. But because these tests are discrete item tests, that ability is like making a jingle that you can't get out of your head, in that it doesn't seem to help you learn a larger system.

just a test, it says the comment is posted, but it never appears...

Good questions, doc. Let me try and answer them,

1. It looks like Japanese elementary/HS education was maybe never all that good across the social class board. I mean, not knowing what direction the sun sets or how do to fractions, that's pretty amazingly basic stuff. But the failure was concealed by the fact that only a (small?) subset of students went on to higher ed.

There is a big jump between elementary and JHS school education (which is mandatory) and hs (which is voluntary but almost everyone attends) I love Japanese elementary education, and I think it does a number of things remarkably well. It also does some things that I wish it didn't do well (the ability to inculcate a sense of Japanese nationalism is what I'm thinking about here) Junior high school, not really great, because the students slowly move to preparation for high school entrance exams, and rote memorization. High schools (which, though I worked in them for 5 years, can take or leave) are streamed according to these entrance examinations, which then used to function along a spectrum from job preparation to college prep. But, like the US, the undergraduate degree has come to replace a hs diploma as a basic entry level requirement, but the Japanese system is poorly equipped to do that.

Also, though I have never delved into those surveys, Japanese really like to read about how bad things are compared to the good old days. I remember when my daughter brought home some homework in fractions and I was at a loss and had to go off for an hour or two to remember how to do it. I suspect that there is some researcher bias which is transmitted when they ask questions in a way that may not be familiar to students so they can then go on about how little the students know. This article suggests that Japanese fraction pedagogy is much better that the US, so the problem is in the attainment rather than in substandard. It may be to do with social class, but the construct of class here is so different than in the US, I think that has to be set aside because of the complications.

2. This may be why cram schools are traditionally so important for the college-bound: because their in-school education is so poor.

To be sure, when looked at from a certain distance, cram schools acted to make a hash of international school comparison, because you look at how many hours and school days in the formal system, but are unable to account for the extra schooling that cram schools provide. One would think that cram schools would become less important in an era of demographic implosion, but they have thrived, because they have a laser-like focus on preparing students for entrance examinations, and don't teach anything else. The best juku teachers are superb entertainers who are able to have students remember entrance exam information in a way that they can't forget. But because these tests are discrete item tests, that ability is like making a jingle that you can't get out of your head, in that it doesn't seem to help you learn a larger system.

3. Now the school-age population is shrinking, but the number of colleges has *increased* -- which doesn't seem like a very good idea. The only way to deal with this is to bring in many students who are below the previous cut-off line.

The increase of colleges is partially illusory. Junior colleges, known as tandai, are not considered in the count of colleges, so as most of them are in the process of converting to 4 year schools, the number of colleges has increased. But make no mistake, if they had just passed a law that all tandai were to be closed, and the university numbers were kept the same, they would still have to deal with bringing in a large number of students. A lot of those students are coming from China, but it is a bit of a bubble economy, with the numbers of students not really supporting the economy of the university system.

Finally...

This paragraph confuses me:
To ensure enrollment, and thus profit, stay up despite the demographic decline, some universities have chosen to accept high school students without requiring them to take entrance exams, or give them tests that cover fewer subjects.
Are most Japanese Us for-profit? Also, this implies that there's no equivalent of the SATs/ACTs/etc, no national test, but that each U gives its own test. Is that true? I've heard of this being standard in Brazil, at least, but I assumed the Japanese love of uniformity meant they had national tests.

Initially, there were individual tests for each uni. They were administered on the same day, one day for public universities, another day for private, so students had two chances to get into university. Students not able to enter would often be ronin (original meaning, masterless samurai) for a year or longer to study specifically for the test they wanted.

Because this was felt to be a contributing factor to the so-called examination hell, the Ministry created the Center shiken, which was supposed to eliminate individual university tests. However, entrance exams were an important source of revenue for private universities (I don't think they are now), so universities maintained their own exams. As the demographics started to implode, private universities started have second chance tests, as well as providing multiple opportunities to take tests. This was made possible because you take a test not for a university, but for a specific department.

It used to be that the intense preparation for exams was essentially someone's college education and it is very difficult to kick students out of a university. Now, as that intense preparation only applies for students going to the elite schools, you see real weaknesses in the incoming students. You could say that exam prep covered up weaknesses in elem/secondary ed, but you could also say that intense exam preparation allowed elem/2ndary ed to cover things in a more systematic manner.

I've complained about Japanese getting hyperbolic, so I guess it is my turn, but the education system seems to typify Japanese decision making, which is a large number of small decisions which lead to an incredibly big mess because everyone refuses to examine first principles. I like my job and like my students, but when I examine the larger landscape, I start feeling like Candide...

I don't know moodle from canoodle, but this tweet quoted by Sullivan, who should nevertheless be deported for his role in bringing the Republican Party to the fore via his prior enthusiasms, is funny:

"Given what South Carolina did tonight to keep a black man in office, I think they've atoned for any previous racism."

At this rate, Obama will choose Romney as his running mate to replace Biden, and Romney, being empty as a cipher and as flexible as an eastern European gymnast but sentient enough to understand the hate that the Republican anti-American, redrum, subhuman, genocidal, murderous, vermin base has for even Mormons, along with the rest, will jump at the offer.

Last time I looked at Moodle (about 3 years ago), it was busy aspiring to be an open-source replacement for Blackboard. That's all very well, but it seems to me that it's solving the easy problem, and solving the easy problem in a particularly old school way (literally).

The hard problem is some set of standards that allow the courseware to be authored by people who don't want to learn Flash, and then allow the courseware to drop into whatever course management architecture finally wins.

As an engineering geek, I'd love to see some math tools that would allow animations of problem solving in the courseware (think Sal Khan with better handwriting), plus the ability to have the student be able to really work a problem on the machine, without having to resort to paper and pencil. MathML is a nice display language for that kind of thing, but it sucks as an actual authoring tool, and it's nowhere close to a system that will allow the student to show his work.

There are probably a similar set of standard tools for a wide variety of educational tasks (although it's the middle of the night and I can't remember any of them right now--oops). Again, you could do all of these using a grab bag of web authoring technologies, but you need to make this stuff really, really simple so course authors can concentrate on their courseware rather than fifteen different display and interaction technologies. Has anybody seen anything decent show up in this area?

But the architecture is going to be really important, too. Ultimately, you want the courseware to encapsulate exposition, exercises, and tests, but you don't want it to have very many dependencies on the chunks that run students through a curriculum. That includes a lot of the stuff that Moodle does: registration, scheduling, student-teacher interaction, test management, and (cheesy) record-keeping. But I suspect that the ultimate answer is a more flexible architecture that lets different providers manage different chunks of the market: course brokerage, tutoring, test proctoring, secure record-keeping and credentialing, etc., without building One Administration Package to Rule Them All. If you get enough of an ecosystem built up around all the things that your traditional school does today, I suspect that the environment is compelling enough that the courseware standards will start leveraging the architecture. That's the point at which you can suddenly create a seamless curriculum out of disparate hunks of courseware, which is the thing that's lacking today. That's clearly what Moodle wanted to become, but I'm not sure that they ever got enough traction to achieve critical mass.

Interesting stuff TRM. One reason that moodle is so popular here is that it permits folks, especially foreigners, to bypass the computer centers that go for paid solutions, often done by Japanese companies with sales forces. However, it is primarily the domain of English teachers, and I don't think that other subjects are all that interested in it.

As I said, I'm not a dyed in the wool moodle, and one of the principles that I subscribe to is Weinberger's notion of small pieces, loosely joined, so I've got a number of different things that I'm using with students and I think that flexibility is a key factor. But you are right, a system is not going to get adopted until it produces an environment where course authors can concentrate on their courseware, or all the old folks die off and are replaced by folks with more computer savviness. I tend to think it is going to be the latter

One of my cross town colleagues was just the other day wondering why Moodle, despite having a relatively long (as these things go) history still has such a crappy looking interface and, as you point out, cheesy record keeping. I suspect it is because the folks who have worked hard on Moodle are not designers and are more than happy to have something that putters along than having something that looks really cool at the expense of some functionality.

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